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Canisius locks down, blanks Sacred Heart

All week in practice, Jack Stander had heard the coaching staff talk about jumping up into the play.

If the Canisius Golden Griffins were going to find postseason success, they needed all five players active in the offensive zone, getting pucks to the net and making plays.

Stander did just that. In his first collegiate playoff game, the freshman defenseman scored his second goal of the season and set up another as the Griffs held on for a 2-0 win over Sacred Heart in front of 1,110 in HarborCenter Friday night.

The win gives Canisius a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series.

Stander, who missed eight games from Nov. 8 to Dec. 6 with a hand injury, was strong on both sides of the puck as the Griffs continued to play their suffocating brand of defense.

“He came in right away and you could see his big, strong body and he can move pucks,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “He’s got a wonderful shot. We missed him when he was out with an injury through the middle part of the year. He’s has a quiet, calm demeanor. He doesn’t get rattled by anything. He just plays the game one step at a time and that’s what we preach and that’s what he does.”

Stander capped off a textbook Griffs’ offensive zone possession at 14:58 of the first period, scoring after the puck moved from Doug Jessey to Nolan Sheeran to Jeff Murray before Stander jumped into the high slot.

“Coach this past week has been emphasizing jumping up in the play and being as aggressive as possible as defensemen,” Stander said. “I thought I saw some time and space and Jeff Murray gave me a great pass in the slot and I was able to put it home. It was a pretty special feeling.”

Stander’s first goal came in the first game at HarborCenter – a 4-4 tie with Ohio State.

“It seems like he’s a big-time performer,” junior Ralph Cuddemi said. “His first game in HarborCenter against Ohio State he puts one away to give us the lead, 3-2. He had the game-winning goal for us tonight and played solid defensively. All the freshmen as a group were introduced to their first playoff game and I feel like they all stepped up to the plate and hit a home run.”

Cuddemi gave the Griffs a cushion with 45 seconds left in the first period, thanks to the setup from Stander as the teams played four-on-four hockey.

It was Cuddemi’s 22nd goal, putting him one shy of tying the record for goals in a season set by Cory Conacher in 2010-11.

Senior Keegan Asmundson, playing in his first postseason game, made 19 saves for the shutout. It was his second of the season and third of his career as he continued to direct the Griffs’ defensive unit.

“Their forwards are fast and they’re skilled,” Stander said. “As defensemen we wanted to get up in the play, gap up, not give them too much space. We wanted to communicate, be physical. I thought Keegan saw as many shots as he could.

The series continues with Game 2 Saturday at 7:35 p.m. in HarborCenter. If necessary, Game 3 will be Sunday at 5:05 p.m. in HarborCenter.